BoardSource and Points of Light are pleased to announce that Rachel Kiddell-Monroe is the newest Board Member of the Month. BoardSource and Points of Light created the Board Member of the Month Award to honor outstanding individuals for their commitment to advancing the public good through exceptional nonprofit board leadership.
Rachel serves as the board president of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM), located in Oakland, California. She is a lawyer who resides in Montreal, Quebec.
In nominating Rachel for the Board Member of the Month Award, Jane Andrews, leader of UAEM’s human resources committee, noted the following:
“Rachel, a lawyer residing in Canada, has been an impressive force of leadership as board president of UAEM. Our board consists of recent graduate school alumni, many young physicians and lawyers, who are united by our commitment to creating public access to publicly funded research. Only an individual as renowned, experienced, and inspiring as Rachel would have the guts and the skillset to unite us and guide us through the highs and lows of a start-up nonprofit. Most board members had no prior board experience. Rachel taught each of us what our roles and responsibilities should be and how to complete the necessary business to keep this organization running financially, ethically, and in a mission-oriented way.
“Rachel has guided our organization to establish useful committees, has led us through annual goal-setting, has led critical inventions and reinventions of our five-year organizational strategy, has shepherded our board through times of financial crisis, has singlehandedly raised more funds through her winning personality and top-notch Rolodex than any other board member, and more recently, has led discussions about the importance of adjusting our duties as our board matures. Her sensitivity to personnel issues is unparalleled and has led to true camaraderie among board members as well as with our last two executive directors, both of who received guidance from her frequently as they started their employment.
“With her leadership, our board has developed over the past seven years from a group of individuals whose membership was quite young and who presided over tenuous organizational finances into one that has recruited financial experts, hired highly qualified staff who took over most of the administrative duties, and one with a diverse group of regular donors as well as a large, committed, and international membership base.”
Recently, BoardSource asked Rachel a few questions about her board service:
What inspires you to serve on this board? There are two parts. First, our mission of ensuring affordable access to medicines resulting from publically funded medical research carried out on our university campuses. Having worked in in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America with people who died because they could not afford the treatment, this is an issue I am passionate about. Second, the student members. We need new global health leaders and these UAEM members are already showing leadership in global health. They are incredibly committed and bright — it is such a privilege to work with them. I enjoy helping them present themselves and organize themselves so that they gain more skills and experience, as well as share their knowledge and insights. I wanted UAEM to provide an environment where students are empowered to both act now and gain experience of nonprofit leadership. Part of this is giving them a chance to learn the roles and responsibilities of being a board member firsthand.
What does leadership mean to you? Leadership is about being committed to a principle and idea, and then showing people how to make it a reality. It’s about guiding others and showing them that change can be made. To lead you need to believe in what you are doing, inspire others to believe in it too, and then to be able to organize so that the message is heard. I believe in being approachable as a leader. I find this important. A leader for me is someone people can look up to and get mentorship from. I also act according to the principles I promote inside UAEM. What I say is what I do. I walk the talk, and I strive to be an example for others.
What do you think is the most important quality a nonprofit board should have? Be driven by an inspiring and concise vision and mission, with clear objectives. One of the first things I did when I began with UAEM in 2007 was make sure we developed a vision and mission that were owned by all and clear for all. Now, when people are interested in UAEM, they get an immediate feel for what the organization is about and how it aims to reach its goals. I think a nonprofit board should strive to grow according to the needs of the organization to achieve its objectives and use money entrusted for those goals responsibly and effectively. I also think it is important to have a strong feeling of collaboration and mutual responsibility among the different board members. A respectful and open atmosphere is essential. While we meet every month on a teleconference, our board only meets twice a year in person. When we meet we make an effort to make it fun and stimulating and always include a social activity at the end. One of my favorites is our karaoke night. We laugh a lot and it creates a real sense of bonding.
What is the most important quality for a board member to have? Aside from being passionate about the issue, a board member needs to be able to listen to others and take into account their views; to be open minded; to be able to communicate and argue a position. If you feel strongly about something, you should ensure you can articulate it and stand by that position. Communication is a critical quality.
What do you consider your most important contribution to UAEM? I am committed to modeling good leadership and empowering young, new leaders. When you are a student, you tend to be treated paternalistically. What I have said is that when we are here together working on access to medicines, we are all equals and as such, we respect each other and recognize each other’s skills and abilities, and use them! I have been on this board for six to seven years and have had no major human resource issues. We have worked hard to promote harmony and openness throughout.I’ve also tried to challenge the classic top-down hierarchy and bring in a flatter structure that puts students and their vision at the center of everything we do. The board has fiscal and fiduciary responsibilities for the organization but it should not be a distant body. It needs to be a part of the jigsaw of organizational parts that create the whole.
I came to the organization when it was a network of a few dozen students in the U.S. with no fixed executive director and no secure funding. We now have more than 120 chapters across the U.S., Canada, Brazil, and Europe and new chapters beginning in Nepal, Bangladesh, Singapore, and India. We have a steady annual budget, a fabulous executive director, and hundreds of students working on critical access to medicines issues on their university campuses.
What does this award mean to you? I feel appreciated and honored. I’m happy to know that our board members are enjoying the organization they are so key in creating. I’m pleased that I can provide leadership for the next generation of leaders. Of course, it’s also nice to know that I have done something right somewhere! I hope to carry on supporting UAEM in its international expansion while I also continue with my responsibilities on the international board of Mdicins Sans Frontires/Doctors Without Borders (MSF).